Protected by a Hulk

Dedicated to all those spirited and fiercely passionate beings. 

I feel blessed to have the wisdom and capacity to sit in quiet detachment, observe and listen when my child is crying hysterically or yelling uncontrollably.  When they were babies, I would deliberately let them cry. At least cry for long enough to tune into what they were trying to say to me.  Picking them up immediately and soothing them, felt to me like I was cutting them off mid-sentence, while they were passionately expressing their views.  Before they were able to communicate through words, in my opinion, crying allowed them to express a range of feelings.  Not necessarily just sad or negative emotions.

Although it would break my heart, I would choose to remain in their space as they howled and bawled, careful not to touch them. I would eventually hear them communicate their message as a feeling in my gut, a flutter in my heart, an idea popping into my head. Some people call this intuition.  We all have it. Some choose to ignore it. Others don’t give it a chance to be spoken.

As my children grew I deployed a similar strategy when they expressed their feelings in manners that are often associated with negativity.  Tantrums, outbursts, yelling, feet stomping, smacking others, rolling on the floor – I’ve been a parent to children who have done it all, tried it all.  It is not unusual for me to detach myself as a party to this emotion yet stay right in the eye of the storm – breathe, observe and feel. It was not easy to do. But it was worth the heartbreaking pause. Sometimes these outbursts were motivated by plain ego and pride or mischief, at other times a feeling of injustice, or fueled by fatigue, hunger or other circumstances.

I have noticed however, that with one of my children, a feeling of pain, injustice and hurt can sometimes trigger an extremely passionate and physical blast of emotion. She employs the “attack is the best way to defend” strategy and spins into a flamboyant temper tantrum of self-preservation. Other personalities may react in a more acceptable, subdued fashion such as to sit down and cry helplessly in emotional pain.  The latter evokes a quicker empathetic response from most people.  Her explosive reaction instead is often misunderstood for obstinacy, rebellion and challenge of authority.

I have worked with her over the years to understand how she instinctively reacts and in the process, she too has gained a better insight into the triggers. As she matures, she has been able to articulate with greater clarity and depth how she feels and why she reacted the way she did.  More often these days, she is able to manage her feelings of hurt by communicating it verbally rather than spinning into a rage. Experience has taught her that when she reacts with such craze, she can get even more frustrated from having lost her audience to their own negative biases that she is on the attack, plain “naughty” and uncontrollable.  In fact, this is where she is misunderstood. She is only attacking because she feels a deep sense of emotional hurt.  And when she is hurt, she doesn’t react quietly.

Last week one of her teachers commented that she had put in a very poor effort with a piece of story writing, while she actually felt she had tried her best. Immediately she spun into a tantrum. She yelled, cried angrily, stomped her feet and refused stubbornly to cooperate on a redraft. Unaware that this frenzy arose from her intense sense of hurt, the teacher then began berating her reaction and labeled her an uncooperative and ineffective student.  That compounded the level of injury and I don’t have to tell you how the rest of the scenario played out.

I felt the teacher expected me to back her up, tick my child off for her uncontrolled outburst and was possibly horrified that I didn’t.  Instead I spoke nothing of it for the next few hours.  We went out to a lovely lunch and an ice cream treat afterwards. Once she was happy, calm and felt restored I asked if we could talk about the incident.  I know her well enough that if she had hinted or said no outright, I would have left it to revisit at another time.  Today she was open and nodded.  We sat cross legged, facing each other. I offered my open palms to her, she took them in both her hands and I started listening.  Asked if there was a better way to react, she didn’t deny it.  I then repeated the strategy she has heard since she was a “terrible two” (year old) : “ Use your words, not your hands. Use your calm voice and people will listen.”  Tears of regret flowed and some leftover anger of being misunderstood.

My prayer for my child is that she continues to understand and accept who she is yet learns ways to communicate her feelings of hurt, so others realise that underneath that tough, fighting spirit is a heart so soft it needs a Hulk to protect.

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